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Homily for Trinity (A) 2017
“God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”
The Holy Trinity is one of those doctrines which attracts a lot of commentary, particularly from non-Christians. Other monotheistic religions sometimes accuse Christians of worshipping three Gods, and, if all we do is look at the mathematics of the thing, it is a bit of a conundrum. God is three and God is one. It’s a mystery – but a good mystery. As the preface used to say in the old translation:
“We joyfully proclaim our faith in the mystery of your Godhead. You have revealed your glory as the glory also of your Son and of the Holy Spirit: three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in your everlasting glory.”
You might be tempted to try and sort the idea out by saying that God is three until you dig deep enough to find the one in the centre, a bit like a very complicated chocolate, but the Church clearly rejects that solution and maintains that God, however much you peel him or slice him, is both three and one. The problem is, of course, that we are asking the wrong question, from the wrong place. Where we are, we don’t have insights into the home life of God, but only into how God works with us, how he reveals himself to us. From where we are standing, God is three and one, and that’s that. Asking us about God’s ontology, about his ultimate reality is like asking a man standing on Beachy Head to describe what is happening on the seabed in the middle of the Pacific. It can’t be done.
St Augustine, the West’s chief theorist of the Trinity, is keen to emphasize the real, separate identities of the Trinity. For him, when the Father speaks, it is the Father, when the Son is born, it is the Son, when the Spirit descends, it is the Spirit. Themselves, without confusion. But the arena where all this takes place, as it were, is the created order sustained in every atom by the presence of the Creator God. It is quite easy to make an analogy between the threefold nature of God whom we don’t see and the threefold qualities of something we do see, as, for example, when we hear of people comparing God to a fire which is flame, heat and light all at once, but still a fire. That does not get us far, though, does it? Because fire is fire and God is God. Augustine’s preferred picture, indeed, his principal contribution to the theology of the Trinity, is a psychological analogy in which God the Father is seen as Love, the Son as the Beloved, and the Spirit as the Loving which binds them together. But both these ideas are mental crutches which don’t get us near to an answer as to who God is when he goes home at night, shuts the door behind him, puts on his slippers and sits in his, or their, armchair. The only way we know the Trinity is through the revelation of God himself in history and through our experience of him in lives of prayer and worship. Indeed, we experience the one, Almighty God in three persons every time that we are aware that we exist, every time that we breathe. As far as we are concerned, we are part of the scope of God’s constant activity, we are not outside, judging or analyzing it. We are infused by the one God, as we experience the operations of the Trinity and as we live in them. The God who reveals himself as triune is always present to us in all his mighty being, and what he reveals is a God who is not a distant monad, but a very present set of enabling relationships.
When we pray, as Christians, we talk about the Trinity a lot:
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, I say, several times a day, as I begin every act of worship, public or private.
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”, we say, at the end of psalms, and towards the end of responsories throughout the Liturgy of the Hours. For something that is so mysterious, we are very attracted to it. Why is it so important? Well, it is important because God is not static, he is process, he is complexity, he is on the move, and we are on the move with him. This is what gives the power and the purpose to our pilgrimage. In today’s readings Moses says, “True they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.” Paul tells us to try and grow perfect. Jesus, in today’s gospel, speaks of the world being saved. These are all windows onto the process, adoption, growth, salvation – God scoops us up into his powerful complexity and whisks us into his inner life. It reminds us of the song that Cleo Laine used to sing, “I know where I am going, and I know who’s going with me.” That’s what God is singing to us throughout salvation history, and in his marvelous complexity, he is scooping us up into his own wonderful life. We don’t understand always, we don’t see the distant scene always, but we feel his presence as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and know that our small complexities, faults, fears, inconsistencies and troubles will all be resolved in the infinite heart of the Trinity which accommodates and accomplishes all things. Indeed, it should be comforting to us that our complexities, and we do have them, all of us, are part of the very nature of things.
The Trinity is not a problem or a puzzle, it’s a promise. It is sanctification and glory. It fills our lives with the one life and gives meaning and transcendence to our efforts to do God’s will. God loves, heals and transforms every time that we love, heal and are transformed. The dynamic interrelationship of the Trinity sweeps us up into the dance of God, and there we find that there is not just room for the Three in One, but that there is also room for us, indeed, for all people and things. You see, God is not an idea, he is all in all, he is everything – including you. Amen.